Thank You

This year's holiday markets were...unbelievable. But not because I made bookoo -- although I did sell more than I was expecting to -- but because of the reception.

When I first started doing shows in my early 20's, I didn't have enough experience to understand that if things aren't selling, there's a reason and it's usually not because people just don't 'get' it. Sometimes it was because I didn't have new designs to show. Sometimes it was because my displays were...really shitty. Sometimes it was because my pricing was off (too low or too high). And sometimes, it's because my designs just weren't all that...unique. 

Any time you start out trying something new, it is inherently derivative. It takes time to learn enough from those who inspired you, to create your own totally unique visions.

And I went through periods of intense self-doubt and even quit a few times. At that time, my ego was so wrapped up in everything I did, that if my work didn't sell, it felt like the whole world was rejecting...me. A perspective like that makes it difficult to step back and consider, objectively, how to pivot. I didn't realize that 'rejection' was my best friend because it literally told me EXACTLY what not to keep doing.

I moved and shut down studios, gave away supplies, and even tried to convince myself that maybe I really was just a hobbyist after all. 

But no matter what I tried, I couldn't stop thinking about design. Everything I looked at, I saw through the eyes of a maker -- I looked at wallets and saw saw waxed linen cord and hole punches; I found driftwood scattered on a beach and saw brooches; I admired beadwork and saw a pattern I needed to understand, and parts I needed to break down.

And I started to remember the thing I'd heard about talent vs. tenacity. So rarely does any great artist/designer/writer/fillintheblank sit down and just create a masterpiece. All the outside ever sees is the best iteration of a hard-fought finished piece. People don't get to see the years of self-teaching and workshop attendance and pieces that end up in the trash. Or the years of design school and waitressing jobs to afford studio space. They don't get to see the reams and reams of paper that got shoved to the back of the filing cabinet, and the cabinets full of ramen used to tide you over during the really poor times. 

Getting good takes commitment, sacrifice, and the ability to let go.

I make because I must, and not because I'm driven to create products, but a huge component of my mission as a maker is to make handcrafted goods accessible to as many people as possible and to spread an understanding of what handmade is all about and why it matters. 

For me, creating goods to sell is a huge part of that, and being in a position to see, literally, what draws the eye and hand at a craft fair booth and what doesn't, allows me to see which things (and I love making all of them) are the ones that tell a story the buyer is excited to share and give and enjoy. 

My work looks quite different even than it did two years ago and I love what I'm making now more than I've loved any of it, and I owe that to all the people who have said "no" to my work over the years. You helped me let go of ego. You helped shape my vision. You pushed me to be better. You forced me to expect more from myself and to give more to others.

And at last weekend's craft shows, hearing people say, "I just can't walk away," and, "I've never seen anything like it," has made a decade worth of worry and self-doubt and fresh starts and self-teaching and studying...totally worth it. 

So thank-you to everybody who simultaneously said, "No," and, "Keep going." I owe you one.

Thank you to The Big Crafty  for literally incubating me as a maker over the years and accepted my first craft fair application even though I was using plastic plates to display my then-shitty necklaces.

Thank you to The Elf Fair at The Arts Center in Carrboro for allowing me to continue flexing my display wings and being a part of your annual holiday show.

Thank you to The Patchwork Market for giving me another venue to sell at, among so many talented makers, and for always being so encouraging.

Craft shows play such a huge part in helping develop artists into business people -- a necessary step when trying to provide yourself with a sustainable livelihood -- and I'm just super thankful you're all around.

Here's to hoping 2017 is even better.

With love and gratitude,

Ryan-Ashley